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Discovering the Unrealistic Elements in Reed’s Play
On the first look, the play seems to be merely a biographical work hovering about a great musician who has also been influential in improving some aspects of the political conditions of his society; however, this seventeen-paged play successfully draws on numerous other social political issues and is only using that context to reach its goal. Issues such as: the state of women in the society, how white people (even the liberal ones) feel toward people with colored skin, what has become of music, etc are investigated in the play.
But in this particular play, the more controversial than the content is the form. Reed’s strategy in presenting the play to the audience is what has made this piece different than the classical straightforward ones, where the audience only watches the main action that is going on on the stage, and if there is some information that needs to be transferred to the audience but it is not planed to be acted out on stage, it is narrated by one particular character (in Shakespeare’s case, a messenger) i.e it is presented by speech, not action. Reeds uses cinematic techniques to have “a scene within a scene”, presenting the audience the information they need to make the correct judgement about the whole story. Take the first scene for example: Louis Armstrong is sitting in his room complaining and nagging about the so-called “beboppers” when suddenly a real bebopper appears in the back (using the spotlight technique) and starts defending his own stance. This technique is very similar to an old one called “aside” which happens in Ben Jonson’s Volpone. In both techniques, only the audience (and not other characters on stage) are able to hear the speaker talking; with this significant difference that in “aside”, the speaker has been present on stage in the ongoing scene, whereas in what Reeds does, the character suddenly appears out of nowhere.
When the bebopper appears in the spotlight and starts criticizing Armstrong, or in similar scenes such as the appearance of Eisenhower’s first wife in the hotel room, it makes the audience feel like they have a full objective view over the play and can judge the characters freely and wisely because all the information they need is presented to them and every single character has the opportunely to appear in a particular scene and defend their stances. Of course this sense can also be achieved in a realistic classical play but not as clearly and objectively.
Apart from giving the audience a sense of objectivity, unrealistic elements in Reeds's play are what make his play more interesting and easy-to-follow. A character popping out of nowhere and starting to talk to the audience face to face; that is what makes art stand out and be different from everyday life. That is what gives he audience what Brecht calls “alienation effect”; what addresses the audience and tells them “this is not real life, this is just a play”. This sense cannot be achieved easily in a realistic classical play where the actors and actresses only engage in coming up on the stage, act out the scene normally, and then leave; and that is what takes the history of the playwriting art to another level.
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